I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the kitchen over the past few years. No. 1: Wait until the immersion blender is in the soup before turning it on. No. 2: Serrated knives are great for cutting chocolate. No. 3: Never underestimate the power of parchment paper. And No. 4: Don’t freak out when it all hits the fan.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling the baking bug and decided to squeeze in some cake making during the last hour of nap time. Jared and I typically aren’t cake people, but a Real Simple recipe for chocolate-Earl Grey cake caught my eye on Pinterest. We had all the ingredients on hand, so I decided to give it ago.
Now bear in mind, this was one of the rare instances when I followed the recipe to a tee, and I will maintain to this day that I have no idea what went wrong. After preparing and mixing the ingredients per the instructions and placing the batter in the appropriate-sized bundt pan, I stuck it in the oven to bake. Beany was still sleeping, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself.
You know that moment when you’re baking something and all of a sudden the delicious smells start coming from the oven and permeating all corners of the house? Well it was literally no more than five minutes after the lovely smells of Earl Grey and chocolate began wafting through our apartment when Jared looked up from his book and asked, “Is something burning?” I ran to the kitchen, opened the oven and saw a steady flow of cake batter rising over the top of the bundt pan, cascading down the sides and pooling quickly in the bottom of my previously spotless oven. Blurg doesn’t begin to describe my rage.
At that point, the damage was done, and I decided to let the obedient bit of cake batter left in the pan finish baking to see if I could salvage it. Aside from the incredibly strong burnt smell that now filled the room, the remainder of the cake cooked up pretty nicely. Deep brown, fluffy and fragrant. I pulled it from the oven, praised myself for staying (relatively) calm and waited for the cake to cool.
So all was well — until, after the recommended cooling time, I flipped the bundt pan over and only half of a cake plopped onto the plate underneath. Where was the rest, you ask? Stuck like a crumpled mess in the inside of my pan. Ooph. I could have cried. Maybe I did cry. I don’t know. It was not pleasant.
I really should have documented the cake disaster to share with you, but to be honest, I was too mad at my mess of an oven and pile of cake crumbles to see clearly at the time. We actually patched the cake back together piecemeal style and ate it anyway. It looked terrible but tasted amazing. Go figure. Still, I had lost a bit of my baking mojo and was hesitant to revisit the oven again (partly because my ego was bruised, partly because I was dreading cleaning that thing).
So what does this whole chocolate cake fiasco have to do with the pretty banana muffins you see dotting the blog today? Those pretty banana muffins, with their fluffy tops, light middles and didn’t-leave-a-dot-of-batter-in-my-once-again-clean-oven selves were my much-needed foray back into the world of exploratory baking. I was in need of redemption, and that’s where the muffins came into play.
It’s an incredibly simple recipe and a take on a baked good that’s been whipped up in one version or another in the kitchens of nearly everyone I know. That’s not the point. The point is that when it comes to baking, you can always try again, whether that means a second attempt at a flopped cake, an entirely new recipe or a different spin on something you’ve made thousands of times. In the kitchen, you can always have a do-over. And for that, I’m thankful.
Banana Tea Muffins
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 655)
• 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup mashed bananas (2 to 3 ripe bananas)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 9 muffins cups with paper liners (or grease them with nonstick cooking spray if you’d prefer). Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer until creamy, then gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Then add the flour mixture alternately with the bananas, adding just a bit of each at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth.
Fill muffin cups nearly full, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out barely clean. Remove the muffins from the pan as soon as you’re able, and allow them to cool on a cooling rack.
I should mention that these are a new favorite in our house. We’re big fans of the Starbucks banana bread recipe, but it makes for a pretty rich finished product. These muffins are just slightly sweet and slightly banan-y, a legit breakfast food that you don’t have to feel guilty about afterward. And they’re pretty. I needed that.
Do you have any disaster tales from the kitchen to share? Any lessons learned while cleaning up said disaster? Or maybe you’ve avoided the disasters altogether and have nothing but wisdom to bestow. Either way, I’d love to hear about it!